VGU Interviews: Shovel Knight

SF: It’s a bit early to ask about a Shovel Knight 2 but how is the extra content coming along? For example, how is the Battle Mode coming along and how are the three guest knights going to play?

SV: We are so excited to get started on those!

NW: *laughs* Yeah, like now, everything consumed with the press junkets, the craziness of just doing a release is just all overwhelming right now.

SV: 100% of our time right now is just being taken up fielding support questions. We want to be there and we want to be there to meet you and have our localised versions out. We still have obligations for the 1.0 version of Shovel Knight that we need to fulfil before we really dive into that update content.

NW: Yeah, just that finish line is more like a finish block of time, so we are still doing release stuff. After that’s done, we hope to sit down and scope out the project and really think about what our next update’s going to be, figuring out the specifics of how that’s going to work.

SV: Then we can announce stuff and get things out.

NW: We are looking forward to brainstorming and dedicating some time to that. I mean, we haven’t been developing a game for months.

Shovel Knight Screen 1

SF: You want to get back into it, you’re missing the fire of game development.

SV: Exactly, we want to get back to it and hit the ground running.

NW: When did we announce our launch? Was it May when we said we were finished?

SV: Yeah, I think it was in May. Since we announced the launch, we haven’t actually done any game development at all.

NW: It’s been like 3 months, I can never get used to that. It always been in the past, with other projects, that even before a project is totally done, you’re already on the next one so you are constantly working on game and I like that flow but it’s been cool. It’s been a real new experience, it’s been fun but really different to what we’re used to.

SF: I can’t go this long into the interview without asking about Shovel Knight’s phenomenal music. How was it working with Manami Matsumae and virt to create the soundtrack? It sounds so authentic compared to an old NES game.

NW: It’s super authentic! Actually, the soundtrack is the most authentic part in its spirit and also its technicality.

SF: Didn’t you cannibalise an NES to get the sound chip in order to make the soundtrack?

NW: Yeah. Jake (virt) works with a program, for Shovel Knight anyway, called Famitracker, which is actually more like a spreadsheet/math problem than composing software and it outputs the real data you can use to create a Nintendo sound format/audio file. A couple of weeks ago, we were at SuperCon in Florida and he had taken the soundtrack, because we were distributing the Famitracker files, he had taken the files and burned them to a real 72 pin NES/Famicom cart with an emulated vrc6 chip and was running the soundtrack of the console.

SF: That’s so cool.

NW: It was insane! It was so cool to see and it was this kid, like this 20 year old music genius who was a great guy, and he ran the soundtrack off the console and it sounded exactly the way it does in the game. I was really surprised, I was expecting some distortion as it was coming out of the Famicom, a bit of weirdness but it sounded perfect. It was a real testament to Jake’s devotion to that artform of making great chiptune music.

SV: I mean, Jake is very involved with everything we do. For the Shovel Knight project, he didn’t just help out with the music but he was also here talking through story points, Jake helped out writing a lot of the jokes and dialogue in the game. We sat in a collaborative environment and worked through all of that stuff together. So it’s kind of, especially all the bar room dialogue, that’s 100% Jake and that’s just him and his personality. So, his mark is all over this game and it wouldn’t have had as much heart if we hadn’t his amazing and authentic contributions.

And then, we had fricking Manami Matsumae do these songs too, which was completely unbelievable and that deal kind of fell out of the sky for us. We were approached by Brave Wave, the company that represents her and we thought it was BS!

Shovel Knight Checkpoint

SF: I bet you thought ‘No, that can’t be true!’

NW: *laughs* Yeah, we thought ‘is this the real person?’ A weird amount of detective work went into verifying if it was true or not.

SV: And so, we found out it was the real thing and now, we have these two Manami tracks in the game and now she’s doing even more stuff like Mighty No. 9 and writing Heart Forth, Alicia. I dunno, it’s just incredible just to have two legends in Jake, who is in his height and his prime and is making the best chiptune stuff out there based on the work of the legendary Manami. She was just his inspiration for so much stuff that he does, it’s just a dream team.

NW: Yeah, we could not have asked for a better team for the music.

SF: I have to ask this as I have made him dance about 50 times, who came up with the Troupple King?

NW: *laughs* You’ve watched the dance multiple times?

SF: I love his dance, I think it’s great.

SV: Well, the original idea came from when Erin, our concept artist and illustrator here, saw a cardboard box that was selling apples, like Washington Apples which had a picture of a trout on the box. We thought, what do those two things have to do with each other? It was an apple crate with a picture of a trout on it, it’s just bizarre. So we started joking about it and it was just a tiny thing, a post-it note which said ‘Troupple’ which was trout and apple put together, with a drawing, not too far from what the regular troupples look like you find dangling from the Troupple Tree in the lagoon now.

After that, this was before Shovel Knight was even conceived of and when Shovel Knight finally came along, we thought we have to try and put troupples in there somewhere so it just kind of came together like that. We know we wanted to have some kind of overly long, unskippable dance that the player would have to do and it had to be somewhere between dumb and funny.

NW: *laughs* Somewhere between dumb and funny? That doesn’t have a great ring to it. No, I’m joking, it’s perfect.

SV: Yeah, just dumb and funny with a picture of the Troupple King in the middle. So, we just put it in there and it worked out great within the universe so that was the initial idea. Woz (Nick) animated the Troupple King and did all the wonderful animations for it and David D’Angelo did the Troupple King dance programmatically so he’s programming in the dance moves and of course, Jake wrote the song which was incredible. Erin then designed the whole damn thing so it was really a collaboration between everyone, just like everything else is. I must mention that Morgan, our intern at the time, did a background, the Troupple King background so about 7 people touched that thing to make it happen and it came out just awesome.

Troupple King

SF: If you had to give some advice to any fledgling indie devs out who are just getting out on the scene, what would your advice be to them?

SV: Be ready. Prepare and don’t think about your game just as a game, think about it as everything. Think about it as your development, your game is your marketing, your game is talking to media people, your game is maybe if you are making merchandise. There is so much to do outside of making your game. If you are an indie dev, it is especially, especially important to know if your legal stuff has been taken care of, that your lawyer things are all done, that your accounting is sorted. In addition to making the game, there is a whole other world of business that you have to keep in mind.

NW: That makes sense for someone who already knows and who probably has made a few games in the past but if you are a fledgling just starting off, if you are a programmer, just learn programming by making a small game. If you are just coming out of high school or middle school, do small projects you can accomplish tied to yourself or a small team of people that you can trust.

SV: If you want to design, start designing stuff by just writing it down. Just design a board game that works exactly like a video game, if you don’t have programming chops or anything. On top of that, if you are a designer, go into games which have level design programs like Megaman Powered Up which has a level editor. There are plenty of games with 3D level editors which are around everywhere which you could use to develop your skills.

NW: Unreal’s pretty good for that stuff.

SV: Yeah. If you’re an artist and want to be a 3D artist, get yourself a 3D program and start doing it.

NW: Before that, just learn the basics for art. The path for animation for any animator is to start with pen and paper and learn it from the very basic ground up.

SV: There are so many tools available. Learn the fundamentals, don’t get bogged down in the program itself, programs change over time but the talents you develop. Work in a team, I’d say if you working to be a game developer, working with your team is one of the most important things so you need to give and receive criticism without being offended or being offensive. You need to be able to kill your babies, if you have an idea that you think is so great and everyone say it isn’t, you are probably wrong.

Continue to page 3…